Dunciad Minor – Book VI


Low on an ebb-tide shore that oozed and stank,
While crowds of envious scribblers lined the bank,
Crowned with fool’s parsley, smug with blank content,
Great Arthur sat prepared for his ascent.
His lantern jaws, whose ‘uncreating word’
Made darkness visible and sense absurd,
Rehearsed an endless coronation speech,
Unheard amid the cat-calls from the beach.
Rejected suitors for the dunces’ crown,
If he should rise they hoped to howl him down,
The whole Antipodean regiment
Of bards and critics, gathered to prevent
The deep damnation of his taking off—
But those who came to prey, remained to scoff:
For, lo, attended by a blowsy chain
Of nymphs, sweet daggle-tails, who form her train,
The Mother Goddess suddenly appears
Bearing the sacred ritual asses’ ears,
Which none but the true royal line will fit,
Those destined on the throne itself to sit.
She claps them on his skull: They stick! They grow!
Frame the pons asinorum of his brow,
And instant, from his throat burst such a bray
As struck his rivals speechless with dismay.
A second, third deep bombinating yell—
Down like rejected manuscripts they fell;
Flat as their works, in hecatombs they lie,
One seething, pullulating printer’s pie!

And now the goddess his ascent prepares;
But first she calls to sacrifice and prayers.
An altar of the critic’s works she builds
Which Merdamant with bilge-and-bitters gilds;
Sweet Cloacina lights the sullen flame,
While Arthur calls his ancestors by name.
Then on the pyre the works of Pope he cast—

There was a sudden, bright, ethereal blast;
A pure, intense, reverberating light
One instant gave the purblind creatures sight:
One instant all the deep of heaven lay bare,
They saw and understood the vision there;
The mystic harmony, the primal law
And Art with Nature joined in dance they saw;
They felt the rage of genius in them mount,
And the high scorn that guards the sacred fount.
One instant—it was over in a flash:
Once more opinionated, oafish, brash,
They chased the fading vision from the brain
And blundered back into themselves again.
At last with awful voice the Goddess cries:
‘It is the hour! Behold your monarch rise!
(Look lively, girls, and help him off his bum!)
And all ye powers of darkness, watch him come!’

As when Aunt Tabitha at eighty-eight,
Defying ground and gravity and Fate,
Scorns the embraces of the devious train,
And, greatly daring, goes by aeroplane;
Too late, too late with sinking heart she sees
Earth fall away with all its roofs and trees;
Instead of soaring bird-like o’er the town,
She feels the ground drop off, the sky swoop down,
And in her heart of hearts, suspects a plot,
By Nature on Mechanic Art begot:
All the resources of the engineer,
The wealth of some great transport profiteer,
Turned to one end, designed with fiendish skill
To hoodwink, elevate, trepan and kill
By inches in their devilish machine
One scared old lady in black bombazine—
So Dullness all her latent power displays
Her favourite from obscurity to raise.
Nausea, her handmaid, there with Nonsense vies
To elevate one pedant to the skies.
In vain his tutelary muses strain,
Heave, haul and flap their moulting wings in vain:
The Goddess sees him cold and flat and dense—
She calls the new Tenth Muse of Impudence:
‘Descend, Publicity, ingenious Frump!
Swiftly inflate him with thy Patent Pump!’
She comes; she puffs; he swells—Behold him rise
Like a blown bull-frog croaking to the skies!
Aloft he rose, majestic, wobbling, slow,
While one nymph hauled and one pushed up below.
Wild shrieks of ‘Arthur!’ waft him from the ground;
And ‘Arthur!’ swamps and fens and bogs resound.

But earthly sounds grow fainter in his ear;
The ancient towers of Dullness soon appear.
Now one more struggle! Veering towards the moon,
He drifts and bobs like an escaped balloon.
While lovely Nonsense, fat and all aglow,
Giggles and heaves the mighty bulk below,
Fair Nausea, head down and heels in air,
Pulls, puffs, and sweeps him with her pendant hair,
Struggles to steer and strives amain to lift,
While round her ears descends her artless shift,
And, upside-down her ample form displays
One vast, blown blush to everybody’s gaze.

So they arrive, are hailed, hauled in and stand
At last rejoicing on the promised land.
And now towards the venerable pile,
Built in the railway-station-gothic style,
The hero ambles and turns in the gate
Above the lintel, in decrepit state,
The ancient owl of Dullness preened its wing
And was the first to know and greet her King.
Moulting and moping on its perch, the bird
Let fall, upon his head one funeral merd,
And, with one squawk, fell fluttering beneath
His foot, and turned its eyelids up in death.

Now through the portal, issuing at a run,
The grandsire welcomes the prodigious son:
‘My long-lost heir, my dab-chick, my absurd
Sweet mopoke, my Australian thunderbird—’
The good old sire here stopped and wept for joy—
‘How nice to see you, welcome home my boy!
My Duck-billed Paradox, at last we meet!
Come to my arms!
And thou, majestic seat
That groaned beneath so many royal Kings,
Receive thy new Possessor! One who brings
A mind not to be swayed by this or that—
Having, indeed, no mind beneath his hat!’

‘Darkling I listen!’ then replied the son,
‘With signal portents has my reign begun:
Henceforth I will … Henceforth … Tut! I can not
Remember what henceforth I would have what!’
‘Oh Death!’ rejoined the sire, with joyful squeaks.
‘O Eloquence! In oracles he speaks!
The brain is clouded: Grieve not, noble Heart!
It is the air affects the thinking part.
With me indeed, indeed it was the same
When first to these high altitudes I came:
On earth I showed just moderately dense
But here I have not spoke one word of sense.

But come, I long to see thee on thy throne,
I, that got Kings though I myself was none!
Come, let these eyes thy consummation see
And my last pastoral be writ for thee,
To tell, while flocks of dunces round thee stand,
“How well the crook beseems thy lilly hand.” ‘

He said; and led him to the castle hall.
There sat the ghostly dunces, drowsing all,
Scribbled or argued, ranted, mused or taught—
Blank were the pages still, the words meant nought,
And blank the faces turned to greet their King
And blank their silence at his home-coming.
But he, through all their ranks unmoved strides on,
Mounts the worn steps and stands before the Throne,
One long, triumphant moment: then he turns
And faces them; with conscious pride he burns;
He takes and tries the royal crown: It fits!
He bends his knees; his hams; he bumps; he srrs!
He sat, and waited with expectant cars
To hear their loyal, royal unmeaning cheers—
O, horror! Through the host from door to door
Rank after rank slides gently to the floor;
Rank upon rank they lie like folded sheep,
Mumbling immortal nonsense in their sleep.
And next the King himself begins to nod,
The last, great conquest of the drowsy god;
Thy hand, great Anarch, softly draws the blind
And one vast snore seals the eclipse of mind.


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